With tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated and satellites showing activity around North Korea’s primary nuclear test site, expectations were correspondingly high when journalists in Pyongyang were summoned for a big event on Thursday.
Accounts from those who were in attendance now suggest a somewhat less enormous development: the opening of a new street.
Asia correspondents were abuzz on Twitter on Thursday morning after journalists in Pyongyang were told to be ready by 6:20 am local time, according to Channel News Asia’s Beijing correspondent Jeremy Koh. NK News later reported reporters had been forbidden from taking any lighters, cell phones or laptops with them.
The summons came after commercial satellite imagery published on March 28 by the North Korea analysis site 38 North appeared to show activity around the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site. On Wednesday the site published new satellite imagery of activity at the test site, accompanied by an analysis of recent movements bearing a title describing it as “primed and ready”.
With US President Donald Trump warning in an interview that he had sent an “armada” to the waters near the Korean peninsula, and the government in Pyongyang preparing to celebrate the birthday of founding president Kim Il Sung on April 15, correspondents throughout the region were on high alert for any seismic activity in North Korea, which normally accompanies its underground nuclear tests.
With the journalists on the scene incommunicado, it was not until early in the afternoon that the true nature of the event came to light:
As Reuters correspondent covering North and South Korea, James Pearson, explained in a tweet, journalists had been gathered to witness the opening of Ryomyong Street – one of Kim Jong Un’s pet projects.
In January, state newspaper The Pyongyang Times reported that Mr Kim had visited the construction site of the residential development project, and in February it further revealed work on the project, including a 70-storey apartment building, was “on a headlong rush to completion”.
Mr Kim himself was present at the street’s Thursday opening, according to a series of tweets from Jonathan Kaiman, Beijing Bureau Chief for the LA Times – though the North Korean leader did not speak.
Thursday’s anticlimax is not the first time reporters in Pyongyang have found themselves unexpectedly arriving at a destination far from the presumptive action. In May of last year the FT’s Jamil Anderlini, in Pyongyang for the first Congress of the Worker’s Party in 36 years, was among the foreign journalists unexpectedly bussed to the March 26 Electric Cable Factory for an impromptu education in the virtues of North Korea’s planned economy.